Interview on Art and Soul Radio with Harriete Estel Berman about the Secrets to Success.
What is the difference between Copyright and Trademark?

Copyright - Practical and Financial Issues

Should you "register" your copyright?  In the previous post, the ease and low cost of applying to the U.S. Copyright Office were highlighted, but a bit of effort and expense is required.  So let's get real, When is it worth it?

Copycats Won't Scratch Pin by Harriete Estel Berman
  Copycat Won't Scratch © 2010
  Recycled tin cans, sterling silver,
  Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

If you intend to sue a copycat in court, a "registered copyright" provides a strong legal foundation. 

The least of my concerns is the time to prepare documentation for the application which diverts you away from your studio.  The application fee is reasonable.    

Of much greater concern is whether you have a strong case and the financial resources to hire lawyers and bring your case to court.  This is a really critical issue.

It costs a lot of money to bring complaints into the court system. Even if you have an "open and shut" case, what is the cost of pursuing the legal action versus the financial award you might recover?

If you can not prove the financial damage of the infringement, what is the point?  For example, if someone copied a necklace or painting worth $2,000, then the "damages" that you can claim are limited to $2,000.  On the other hand, if you plan to make a series or a production line based on the ideas, then you have much more to lose and a larger potential claim.  But unless you can prove this financial loss, don't plan on a large settlement.

UPDATE 2013: Thea Izzi points out that it has become common practice for designers to surf the internet for design inspiration. She says, "As an industry designer I use the Internet to trend source and find inspiration from the design and fashion world ... the rise of Etsy and Pinterest and other sites that cater to independent artists, inspiration can be found in abundance there too.

Copycats See'em Pin by Harriete Estel Berman is constructed from recycled tin cans.
Copycat See'em   © 2010
Recycled tin cans, sterling silver rivets,
Artist: Harriete Estel Berman

What should be done?  In the previous post, it was officially noted that "your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created."  That may sound like you don't need to do anything, but here are some proactive tips. 

Photograph and date records of your completed work.

Keep records of all shows, sales, and exhibitions.

Never let people photograph your work or booth at a craft show.

Hopefully, it never happens ...but if someone starts to copy your work, you will have documentation.

However, without any doubt in my mind, your best protection is your own personal advocacy for your work and the general integrity of the arts and crafts community.  As discussed in earlier posts:

1) Continued professional innovation:

2) Cease and Desist Letters:

3) Help your community

  • Teach that copycat work is not acceptable
  • Inform the gallery, exhibition sponsor, or craft show organizer whenever you see copycat work;

With or without registered copyright, you must be an active advocate for your work and for the ethics of our community. 

And, yes, if it makes you feel better to register your copyright, go right ahead.

Let's discuss this. . . .  "Here kitty, kitty, kitty."   Stay tuned for the final posts in this series. Please feel welcome to leave your comments or share your experiences.


This post was updated on January 13, 2022, to provide current links.